JPL: A new image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope reveals billowing mountains of dust ablaze with the fires of stellar youth.
The image composite compares an infrared image taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to a visible-light picture of the same region (inset). While the infrared view, dubbed “Mountains of Creation,” reveals towering pillars of dust aglow with the light of embryonic stars (white/yellow), the visible-light view shows dark, barely-visible pillars. The added detail in the Spitzer image reveals a dynamic region in the process of evolving and creating new stellar life.
Captured by Spitzer’s infrared eyes, the majestic image resembles the iconic “Pillars of Creation” picture taken of the Eagle Nebula in visible light by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 1995. Both views feature star-forming clouds of cool gas and dust that have been sculpted into pillars by radiation and winds from hot, massive stars.
The Spitzer image, which can be found here, shows the eastern edge of a region known as W5, in the Cassiopeia constellation 7,000 light-years away. This region is dominated by a single massive star, whose location outside the pictured area is “pointed out” by the finger-like pillars. The pillars themselves are colossal, together resembling a mountain range. They are more than 10 times the size of those in the Eagle Nebula.
The largest of the pillars observed by Spitzer entombs hundreds of never-before-seen embryonic stars, and the second largest contains dozens.
“We believe that the star clusters lighting up the tips of the pillars are essentially the offspring of the region’s single, massive star,” said Dr. Lori Allen, lead investigator of the new observations, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass. “It appears that radiation and winds from the massive star triggered new stars to form.”
Spitzer was able to see the stars forming inside the pillars thanks to its infrared vision. Visible-light images of this same region show dark towers outlined by halos of light. The stars inside are cloaked by walls of dust. But infrared light coming from these stars can escape through the dust, providing astronomers with a new view.
“With Spitzer, we can not only see the stars in the pillars, but we can estimate their age and study how they formed,” said Dr. Joseph Hora, a co-investigator, also from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
(very cool pictures indeed)